Religion Wiki
Judges in the Bible
In the Book of Judges
Deborah (and Barak)*
In the First Book of Samuel
* Not explicitly described as a judge

Samson's hair cut by the soldiers, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Samson, Shimshon (Hebrew): שמשון, Standard Šimšon Tiberian Šimšôn; meaning "of the sun" – perhaps proclaiming he was radiant and mighty, or "[One who] Serves [God]") or Shamshoun شمشون (Arabic) or Sampson Σαμψών (Greek) is the third to last of the Judges of the ancient Children of Israel mentioned in the Tanakh (the Hebrew bible), and the Talmud. He is described in the Book of Judges chapters 13 to 16.[1][2][3]

The exploits of Samson also appear in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, written in the last decade of the 1st Century CE, as well as in works by Pseudo-Philo, written slightly earlier.

Samson is a Herculean figure, who is granted tremendous strength by God to combat his enemies and perform heroic feats unachievable by ordinary humans:[4] wrestling a lion,[3][5][6][7] slaying an entire army with only a donkey jawbone,[2][3][6][7][8] and destroying a temple.[1][3][7]

He is believed to have been buried in Tel Tzora in Israel overlooking the Sorek valley. There reside two large gravestones of Samson and his father Manoah. Nearby stands Manoach's altar (Judges 13:19-24).[9] It is located between the cities of Zorah and Eshtaol.[10]

Biblical narrative

Samson's activity takes place during a time when God was punishing the Israelites, by giving them "into the hand of the Philistines".[11] An angel appears to Manoah, an Israelite from the tribe of Dan, in the city of Zorah, and to his wife, who had been unable to conceive.[2][5][12] This angel proclaims that the couple will soon have a son who will begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines.[5] The wife believed the angel, but her husband wasn't present, at first, and wanted the heavenly messenger to return, asking that he himself could also receive instruction about the child that was going to be born. Requirements were set up by the angel that Manoah's wife (as well as the child himself) were to abstain from all alcoholic beverages, and her promised child was not to shave or cut his hair. He was to be a "Nazirite" from birth. In ancient Israel, those wanting to be especially dedicated to God for a while could take a nazarite vow, which included things like the aforementioned as well as other stipulations.[2][5][12] After the angel returned, Manoah soon prepared a sacrifice, but the Messenger would only allow it to be for God, touching his staff to it, miraculously engulfing it in flames. The angel then ascended to heaven in the fire. This was such dramatic evidence as to the nature of the messenger, that Manoah feared for his life, as it has been said that no-one can live after seeing God; however, his wife soon convinced him that if God planned to slay them, he would never have revealed such things to them to begin with. In due time the son, Samson, is born; he is reared according to these provisions.[5][12]

Rembrandt's painting of Samson and Delilah.

When he becomes a young adult, Samson leaves the hills of his people to see the cities of the Philistines. While there, Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman from Timnah that, overcoming the objections of his parents who do not know that "it is of the Lord", he decides to marry her.[5][12][13] The intended marriage is actually part of God's plan to strike at the Philistines.[5] On the way to ask for the woman's hand in marriage, Samson is attacked by an Asiatic Lion and simply grabs it and rips it apart, as the spirit of God moves upon him, divinely empowering him. This so profoundly affects Samson that he just keeps it to himself as a secret.[5][6] He continues on to the Philistine's house, winning her hand in marriage. On his way to the wedding, Samson notices that bees have nested in the carcass of the lion and have made honey.[5][6] He eats a handful of the honey and gives some to his parents.[5] At the wedding-feast, Samson proposes that he tell a riddle to his thirty groomsmen (all Philistines); if they can solve it, he will give them thirty pieces of fine linen and garments.[5][12] The riddle ("Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet") is a veiled account of his second encounter with the lion (at which only he was present).[5][6] The Philistines are infuriated by the riddle.[5] The thirty groomsmen tell Samson's new wife that they will burn her and her father's household if she does not discover the answer to the riddle and tell it to them.[5][6] At the urgent and tearful imploring of his bride, Samson tells her the solution, and she tells it to the thirty groomsmen.[5][12]

Statue of Samson and the lion in Saint Petersburg.

Before sunset on the seventh day they said to him,

"What is sweeter than honey?
and what is stronger than a lion?"

Samson said to them,

"If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have solved my riddle."[8][13]

He flies into a rage and kills thirty Philistines of Ashkelon for their garments, which he gives his thirty groomsmen.[6][8][12] Still in a rage, he returns to his father's house, and his bride is given to the best man as his wife.[6][8][12] Her father refuses to allow him to see her, and wishes to give Samson the younger sister.[8][12] Samson attaches torches to the tails of three hundred foxes, leaving the panicked beasts to run through the fields of the Philistines, burning all in their wake.[6][8][12] The Philistines find out why Samson burned their crops, and they burn Samson's wife and father-in-law to death.[7][8][12] In revenge, Samson slaughters many more Philistines, smiting them "hip and thigh".[8][12]

Samson then takes refuge in a cave in the rock of Etam.[8][12][14] An army of Philistines went up and demanded from 3000 men of Judah to deliver them Samson.[12][14] With Samson's consent, they tie him with two new ropes and are about to hand him over to the Philistines when he breaks free.[7][14] Using the jawbone of an ass, he slays one thousand Philistines.[3][7][14] At the conclusion of Judges 15 it is said that "Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines".[14]

Samson in the Treadmill, by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Later, Samson goes to Gaza, where he stays at a harlot's house.[8][15] His enemies wait at the gate of the city to ambush him, but he rips the gate up and carries it to "the hill that is in front of Hebron".[8][15]

He then falls in love with a woman, Delilah, at the Brook of Sorek.[7][8][15][16] The Philistines approach Delilah and induce her (with 1100 silver coins each) to try to find the secret of Samson's strength.[8][15] Samson, not wanting to reveal the secret, teases her, telling her that he will lose his strength should he be bound with fresh bowstrings.[8][15] She does so while he sleeps, but when he wakes up he snaps the strings.[8][15] She persists, and he tells her he can be bound with new ropes. She ties him up with new ropes while he sleeps, and he snaps them, too.[8][15] She asks again, and he says he can be bound if his locks are woven together.[8][15] She weaves them together, but he undoes them when he wakes.[8][15] Eventually Samson tells Delilah that he will lose his strength with the loss of his hair.[7][8][15][16] Delilah calls for a servant to shave Samson's seven locks.[8][15][16] Since that breaks the Nazarite oath, God leaves him, and Samson is captured by the Philistines,[3][8][15] who stab out his eyes with their swords. After being blinded, Samson is brought to Gaza, imprisoned, and put to work grinding grain.[15]

Samson destroys the temple of Dagon, by Gustave Dore

One day the Philistine leaders assemble in a temple for a religious sacrifice to Dagon, one of their most important deities, for having delivered Samson into their hands.[15][10] They summon Samson so women and men gather on the roof to watch.[15][16][10] Once inside the temple, Samson, his hair having grown long again, asks the servant who is leading him to the temple's central pillars if he may lean against them (referring to the pillars).[7][15][10]

"Then Samson prayed to God, "remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes" (Judges 16:28)".[3][15][10] "Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" (Judges 16:30)[10][17] He pulled the two pillars together, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.[3][7][16][10][17] Thus he killed many more as he died than while he lived." (Judges 16:30).[7][17]

After his death, Samson's family recovers his body from the rubble and buries him near the tomb of his father Manoah.[10]

The fate of Delilah is never mentioned.[16] Samson goes to Gaza, where he stays at a harlot's house.[8][15] His enemies wait at the gate of the city to ambush him, but he rips the gate up and carries it to "the hill that is in front of Hebron

In rabbinic literature

Delilah cuts Samson's hair, by Master E. S., 1460/1465

Rabbinical literature identifies Samson with Bedan;[12] Bedan was a Judge mentioned by Samuel in his farewell address (1 Samuel 12:11) among the Judges that delivered Israel from their enemies.[18] However, the name "Bedan" is not found in the Book of Judges.[18] The name "Samson" is derived from the Hebrew word "shemesh", which means the sun, so that Samson bore the name of God, who is called "a sun and shield" in Psalms 84:11; and as God protected Israel, so did Samson watch over it in his generation, judging the people even as did God.[12] Samson's strength was divinely derived (Talmud, Tractate Sotah 10a); and he further resembled God in requiring neither aid nor help.[19][12]

Jewish legend records that Samson's shoulders were sixty cubits broad.[12] (Although many talmudic commentaries explain that this is not to be taken literally, for a person that size could not live normally in society. Rather it means he had the ability to carry a burden 60 cubits wide (approximately 30 meters) on his shoulders). [20] He was lame in both feet [21], but when the spirit of God came upon him he could step with one stride from Zorah to Eshtaol, while the hairs of his head arose and clashed against one another so that they could be heard for a like distance[22].[12] Samson was said to be so strong that he could uplift two mountains and rub them together like two clods of earth,[23] yet his superhuman strength, like Goliath's, brought woe upon its possessor.[24][12]

In licentiousness he is compared with Amnon and Zimri, both of whom were punished for their sins.[25][12] Samson's eyes were put out because he had "followed them" too often.[26][12] It is said that in the twenty years during which Samson judged Israel he never required the least service from an Israelite [27], and he piously refrained from taking the name of God in vain.[12] Therefore, as soon as he told Delilah that he was a Nazarite of God she immediately knew that he had spoken the truth [26].[12] When he pulled down the temple of Dagon and killed himself and the Philistines the structure fell backward, so that he was not crushed, his family being thus enabled to find his body and to bury it in the tomb of his father.[28][12]

In the Talmudic period, some seemed to have denied that Samson was a historic figure and was regarded by such individuals as a purely mythological personage. This was viewed as heretical by the rabbis of the Talmud, and they attempted to refute this. The named Hazelelponi as his mother in Numbers Rabbah Naso 10 and in Bava Batra 91a and stated that he had a sister named "Nishyan" or "Nashyan".[12]


Some evidence suggests that Samson's home tribe of Dan might have been related to the Philistines themselves. "Dan" might be another name for the tribe of Sea Peoples otherwise known as the Denyen, Danuna, or Danaans. If so, then Samson's origin might be entirely Aegean.[29] These speculations are in stark contrast to the historical depictions expressed in the Bible and are therefore mutually exclusive.

Joan Comay, co-author of Who's Who in the Bible:The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament, believes that the biblical story of Samson is so specific concerning time and place that Samson was undoubtedly a real person who pitted his great strength against the oppressors of Israel.[1]

In contrast, James King West finds that the hostilities between the Philistines and Hebrews appear to be of a "purely personal and local sort". He also finds that Samson stories have, in contrast to much of Judges, an "almost total lack of a religious or moral tone".[30]

Some modern academics have interpreted Samson as a demi-god (such as Hercules or Enkidu) somehow enfolded into Jewish religious lore, or as an archetypical folklore hero, among others. Suggestions that he was a solar deity, popularized by nineteenth-century "solar theorists", no longer have wide academic support.[31]

Samson in folk culture

Samson parade Mauterndorf/Austria

Samson parades are annual parades of a Samson figure in different villages in Lungau, Salzburg and two villages in the north-west Steiermark (Austria).[32]

Samson is one of the giant figures at the "Ducasse" festivities, which takes place at Ath, Belgium.[33] and it is now a popular name today in our modern society

Samson (spelled Sanson) plays a major role in many accounts of Basque mythology, where it is represented as a mighty giant capable of hurling heavy stones, often providing an explanation for the origin of mountains and megalithic monuments. In some places this role is played by a development of the character Roland (Errolan).

In literature

Ze'ev Jabotinsky the Zionist Revisionist leader used the biblical story of Samson to espouse some of his political vision through his 1930 novel, Samson the Nazarite.[34]

Samson also featured in Australian author, David Goransson's 1996 novel, Nazarite: Day of the Judge.[35]

See also

  • Cultural references to Samson
  • Samson Unit - Military


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Template:Wwbible
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 58. ISBN 0500050953. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Porter, J.R. (2000). The Illustrated Guide to the Bible. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. pp. 75. ISBN 0-760-72278-1. 
  4. Template:Wwbible
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 Template:Wwbible
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 59. ISBN 0500050953. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 61. ISBN 0500050953. 
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 8.15 8.16 8.17 8.18 8.19 8.20 Template:Wwbible
  9. Philistines are upon you, Samson, Ynet
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 Template:Wwbible
  11. Judges 13
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 12.11 12.12 12.13 12.14 12.15 12.16 12.17 12.18 12.19 12.20 12.21 12.22 12.23 12.24 12.25 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Samson", a publication now in the public domain.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Judges 14
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Judges 15
  15. 15.00 15.01 15.02 15.03 15.04 15.05 15.06 15.07 15.08 15.09 15.10 15.11 15.12 15.13 15.14 15.15 15.16 Judges 16
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. pp. 62. ISBN 0500050953. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Judges 16:30
  18. 18.0 18.1 BibleGateway - Quick search: Bedan
  19. (Midrash Genesis Rabbah xcviii. 18)
  20. Ben Yehoyada and Maharal in commentry to Talmud tractate "sotah" 10a
  21. (Talmud tractate Sotah 10a)
  22. (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah viii. 2)
  23. (ibid.; Sotah 9b)
  24. (Midrash Eccl. Rabbah i., end)
  25. (Leviticus Rabbah. xxiii. 9)
  26. 26.0 26.1 (Sotah l.c.)
  27. (Midrash Numbers Rabbah ix. 25)
  28. (Midrash Genesis Rabbah l.c. § 19)
  29. Greenberg, Gary (2000). 101 Myths of the Bible. Sourcebooks, Inc.. pp. 171–172. ISBN 1-57071-586-6. 
  30. West, James King (1971) Introduction to the Old Testament, MacMillan Company, New York, p. 183.
  31. Mobley, Gregory (2006) Samson and the Liminal Hero in the Ancient Near East, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 5.
  32. see de:Samsonfigur
  33. see fr:Samson (Géant processionnel)
  34. Samson the Nazarite, London: M. Secker, [1930]
  35. Nazarite: Day of the Judge, Loganlea: Nazarite Publications, [1996]

External links

Preceded by
Judge of Israel Succeeded by

ar:شمشون br:Samzun, roue Israel ca:Samsó cs:Samson (soudce) cy:Samson (Beibl) fa:شمشون ko:삼손 id:Simson lt:Samsonas ja:サムソン no:Samson (person) pt:Sansão (Bíblia) ru:Самсон fi:Simson sv:Simson uk:Самсон yi:שמשון הגיבור zh:參孫